She drops her hand from my arm, and her I’m-going-to-rip-your-dick-off glare heats her eyes. “Bullshit,” she says. “You would never take Adderall.”
“I wouldn’t,” I agree. “But I was losing sleep, and I wasn’t putting a hundred percent into Wharton or Cobalt Inc., so I decided to start taking it.”
“For how long?” Her collarbones sharpen as she holds in a breath. I remember what Frederick once told me when I was only eighteen and I thought I was finished discovering who I was and what I wanted to be. He said, “Lies tear at relationships until they’re nothing but unwound threads.”
I hate that my own has begun to unravel.
I hate that, in this moment, I am ordinary.
“The end of January.”
“Almost four months,” she says, dumbfounded. But she doesn’t attack me, doesn’t throw up her hands and call it quits. Her eyes are on the ground as she thinks it over.
“You would’ve given up something if you didn’t, right?” she asks, her eyes flitting to mine, so many questions swimming in them.
“Not you,” I tell her. “I would have never given up you.”
I nod, and she shakes her head in dismay. “I don’t want you to choose me over your dream,” she says. “But I can’t stand here and be okay with you choosing me over your health.”
It’s not fair for me to put her in a position, to trap her into giving me an ultimatum. I know what I have to do. Even if the semester is almost over, I still have a year and a half left. I’m not even close to graduating and earning this final degree.
I notice the space between us. Five feet away. Five feet too much. I imagine that space so much further if I make the wrong decision right now.
Frederick is right.
My mother is right.
I can’t have everything. So I’m going to have to f**king choose.
“I’m withdrawing from Wharton,” I deliver the lines with finality. It hardly topples me backwards. It doesn’t even make me sway. In fact, a weight rises off my shoulders—a heaviness that I didn’t even know was there before. Dragging me down.
It’s not as earth-shattering as I once believed it would be. Sometimes the dreams you construct for yourself at ten, twelve-years-old aren’t the same ones you thought they would be at twenty-four. And it just takes a while to finally make peace with that.
I think I just have.
“I’m going to quit taking Adderall.” I step towards her and place my hands on her shoulders.
“I don’t need it.”
“You never needed it,” she reminds me. “That’s not why you were trying to get one.” I see the guilt in her eyes. I’ve chosen her over my dream, and I told her never to do that for me.
I cup her face with my hand, skimming her bottom lip with my thumb, her lipstick a dark red that makes her look as fierce as she is. I want to be with her every day of my life. I want to be here, not in class. And I have the means to do so.
“My dreams have changed,” I say. The future I once imagined is gone. Where I proudly accept my diploma, where I prove to myself that I’m the best because I can be. The longer I’ve been with this girl, the faster it’s flitted away.
I kiss her deeply, and she reciprocates in reply, silently telling me that she’s accepting my decision.
“That was easy,” I say as we part, holding her around the waist while I stare down at her smooth skin, her cheeks reddened with blush and heat from the kiss. “I thought you would fight me harder.”
She shakes her head. “You should see the look in your eyes.”
And she smiles. “You’re wearing your emotions, Richard.” She runs her hands over my chest, smoothing down my navy-blue shirt. “I can tell you don’t care about Wharton as much as you used to, and I want you, my sisters, their boyfriends and Lo’s brother to do whatever makes them happy. Isn’t that the goal?”
It is for me now, but I’m not so sure it’s always been that way. “Your sisters’ boyfriends?”
Rose’s nose scrunches in disgust. “Daisy is still with Julian.”
“And I’m not happy about that,” I tell her. “What were we saying about happiness?” I feign forgetfulness. “We…do what makes us happy.” I keep her in my arms, one hand lowering to her ass, glad that five feet no longer separates us. “I’d happily like to remove him from your sister’s life.” I see the gangbanging text he sent Ryke, which worries me the most. I don’t want him with her for longer than he has to be.
Rose says, “I’d happily cut off his dick and toss it into a tank of flesh-eating piranhas.” She flashes a cold smile that would shrivel his balls too.
“Creative,” I grin.
Rose saw the text like the entire nation did. On television. Production aired my conversation with Julian in the hallway. I thought people disliked me, but I learned it’s more of a love-hate after the intense backlash Julian has received.
No one has started an online petition to have me thrown in jail.
He definitely beat me on that account.
Julian should be fired from the Marco Jeans campaign that he booked with Daisy. But the designer won’t let him go. He likes the media attention, even if it’s negative. So Daisy has to work with him.
I try to not think about Rose’s little sister whose life is more complicated than any seventeen-year-old’s should be. And I glance down at the joints in the plastic baggy, still in my hand. I step back from Rose and pull my phone out of my pocket.
“Who are you calling?” she asks curiously.
“Frederick. I need to know if I can mix Adderall and marijuana.” I put the phone to my ear.
Her face fills with surprise. “You still want to do that?”
“Yes, darling.” I rub her bottom lip and kiss her once more, right before the line clicks.
[ 41 ]
Connor won’t feel the mental sluggishness of pot, but he’ll still feel the body high. At least those were Frederick’s words. He wasn’t pleased about the drug-mixing, but Connor put me on speaker phone, and I softened Frederick’s worries, explaining how Connor just threw away his Adderall. I didn’t mention dropping out of Wharton, or the fact that he took a giant immeasurable leap for me.
I’m sure they’ll discuss that on Monday.
I cough into my third drag since I never learned how to smoke properly. I was too focused on my company, grades, and extracurricular activities (which did not include pot) to dive into any sort of illegal paraphernalia. But I’m twenty-three. It’s not too late to experiment and try new things. If I told my seventeen-year-old self that I’d be choked and spanked by my number one academia rival (and I would like it) and I’d pass a joint with him six years later—I would have never believed me.
But I think my seventeen-year-old self would be so damn tempted towards that image. I think she would want it to be true.
I watch Connor blow a line of gray smoke from his lips, not hacking up a lung like me.
I attempt to glower at him, but it loses its potency when I’m choking on air.
“Here…” Connor tosses a throw-blanket over our heads, caging us in a man-made tent. He pinches the joint between his fingers, places it between his lips, and sucks deeply. His eyes stay on mine, and I wonder if he wants me to study him, so I can do it right next time. But he would have uttered a smartass remark about “tutoring” me.
Even so, I scrutinize the way he inhales deeply, the smoke sucking down his throat. I’ve never found smoking sexy—not until now, when my overly intelligent, cocky boyfriend exhales like a champion, a god, some immortal being with a grin that could light the world and create an eighth great wonder.
And I would NEVER say this to him. Just so we have this clear. I narrow my eyes so he can’t read the high praises and exaggerations on my face. But he’s near laughter, so I must be doing something wrong then. I reach for the joint, and he shakes his head. He takes another long drag, but this time, he keeps his mouth closed, holding in the smoke.
Then he grabs the back of my head with one authoritative hand. Before I blink, my lips touch his and part on command. Smoke rushes into my mouth and tickles the back of my throat. An incoming cough threatens to ruin my high once more. But Connor stifles it with a kiss, his tongue slipping into my mouth, easing the sensations. I breathe in his intoxicated air, and he takes on mine, the most intimate kissing experience I’ve ever been swept into. Breath for breath. Inhale, exhale.
His fingers run through my soft hair, and with his other hand, he urges me onto his lap. I straddle his waist, and yet, it feels like he’s more in control of the moment than me.
It spikes my pulse with pleasure, and I swoop my arms around his neck. When our lips finally break apart, we both blow a small puff of smoke up in the air. Our grins are unmistakable.
“Let’s do it again,” I say, excited to finally inhale without my throat burning in refute. I sincerely thought my body wouldn’t allow poison to flow through it. Good job, body.
“Every junkie’s favorite words,” he says with a playful smile.
“Weed isn’t that bad,” I rebut.
He takes a small hit and then blows the smoke away from my face. Our tent has filled with the thick smoke and pungent smell, hotboxing our little area. We’re going to reek.
“You’re right,” Connor says dryly and appraises the joint. “It doesn’t fry brain cells. Only kills ambition. How can that be worse?”
Anything that makes a person into a lesser version of themselves is malevolent. At least in Connor Cobalt’s mind.
I’m not going to ruin this by arguing with him. “I do have one problem with it,” I admit.
He raises his brows in curiosity.
“The smell,” I say. “It’s disgusting. Worse than cigarettes. I’m going to have to bathe in bleach.”
He smiles and kisses me deeply. I love that. Drawing a man in with my opinions and words. It feels headier than enticing him with my body—though I enjoy that too.
When we part, I say, “Someone would make a lot of money if they invented odorless weed. Oh! Or perfumed marijuana!” I giggle. Giggle. That high-frequency girly noise is so unfamiliar. This hotbox is definitely working.
He kisses me again, silencing my laughter and filling my lungs with smoke and delight.
We stay under the blanket for a while. When I try touching my face, my hands move in slow motion, and my leg seems to take forever to shift, too sluggish to really go anywhere. So I stay positioned on Connor’s lap. But when I turn my head, it speeds faster than the rest of me, like it’s not attached to my body. It’s a weird combination that has me in a fit for two minutes. Was it two minutes?
Connor watches me, drinking water, and when he tries to pass the bottle in my direction, I reach out and hit his elbow. I laugh again.
“Here,” he says. He puts the rim to my lips and tilts the bottle up, helping me drink. The water feels good against my sandpapered throat. After wiping my lips, I become suddenly entranced by the buttons on his shirt. My fingers play with them. Wow. The buttons fit perfectly into that little hole. Such simple mathematics, and yet someone, somewhere discovered it first.
Connor says very little. I like the silence. It makes all the feelings stronger. Like how he brushes his fingers through my hair. Each part of me becomes more sensitive than the next.
“I’m hungry,” I suddenly say.
“I know the solution.” He scoops me up quickly, tossing the blanket aside. My heart races faster than before. He nuzzles his nose into my neck. “Time to feed you.”
I laugh, his skin tickling mine as we exit the room. I don’t care that we’re venturing into the camera-filled house. It’s not like we’re smoking on camera. No one has proof of anything.
And plus, it’s past Savannah, Brett, and Ben’s hours. They’re probably fast asleep in their own homes, leaving the cameras on the walls and in the rafters to film us.
Connor descends the stairs with me in his arms. Once we reach the main level, he sets my feet on the ground. The living room is right there. But Lily and Lo have their backs to us on the couch, staring at the television above the fireplace mantel. They stayed barricaded in their room for a full week before Scott apologized. Which Lo said was “half-assed and insincere,” but it was enough for them to finally venture downstairs.
I open my mouth to speak.
“Shh,” Connor whispers softly, pressing his fingers to my lips. We both smile. Why is that so funny?
We stay hidden by…nothing really. They can see us in the open space if they just turn around, but they’re both absorbed by the movie.
“Why are we watching this?” Loren asks.
“Because you need to know why I think you’re Peter Pan incarnate,” Lily replies.